EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When a few New Jersey media members tried to get interviews with a couple of Bruins yesterday before their season finale against the Devils, coach Mike Sullivan politely turned them down because he wanted his players to focus on the task at hand.
They certainly took care of business, beating the Devils, 3-1, at the Meadowlands. The win clinched the Northeast Division crown as well as second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins will host the seventh-seeded Montreal Canadiens at the FleetCenter in Games 1 and 2 Wednesday and Friday.
After a dreadful outing against the Devils in Boston Saturday, the Bruins were a different team in this one. They started strong and stayed that way despite not having captain Joe Thornton, who remained home nursing an undisclosed upper-body injury that is believed to be bruised ribs.
Sullivan altered his lines yesterday, moving Travis Green to the top line with Glen Murray and Patrice Bergeron and dropping Mike Knuble to the second combination with Sergei Samsonov and Michael Nylander. It took only 57 seconds to pay dividends as Green put the Bruins on the board. Murray made it a 2-0 advantage at 2:51.
Murray made the first goal happen by nailing defenseman Paul Martin on the forecheck. Bergeron had the puck behind the net and fired it out in front. It caromed off New Jersey center John Madden right to Green, who beat goalie Martin Brodeur.
"Any time you can come out and get a lead, it stacks the deck in your favor," said Sullivan. "To come out and get the two-goal lead right off the bat was a great momentum boost for our team; it was a confidence boost after a tough game [Saturday]. That first 20 minutes were real important . . ."
At the 15:17 mark, Samsonov put it out of reach when he potted a goal from the left circle through a screen by defenseman Nick Boynton. New Jersey's lone goal came at 11:53 of the third off the stick of Jamie Langenbrunner.
Now, with the regular season over, the Bruins can put all their energy into avenging their first-round loss to the Habs two years ago.
"I think it's going to be a big challenge," said Sullivan. "Montreal is a real good hockey team and we certainly have to be ready to play."
Veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell said although payback might fuel their motivation, the team has higher goals in mind.
"Yeah, we do remember what they did a couple of years ago," he said. "But at the same time, we're looking at much bigger goals than beating Montreal. We think this team can make some noise in the playoffs. We'll give [Montreal] the best shot we can to eliminate them, but we're looking at much higher goals than just kind of payback from two years ago."
Knuble said the team's confidence heading into the postseason is the highest he's felt since coming to Boston.
"Guys are ready to bear down and focus everything they have on this playoff run," said Knuble. "We could be without hockey for a long time [because of the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, which many believe will result in a lockout]. We all want to give it one good shot here."
For Sullivan, it was a satisfying end to the regular season. Last year in Providence, he coached the Baby B's to a division title and this year he and his club have come a long way.
"I'm thrilled," said the first-year coach. "I'm happy for our players. Our guys have battled through a lot this year and have overcome a lot of adversity to move this team in the right direction. I can't say enough about our captains, the older guys in the room. I think they've done a tremendous job."
It hasn't always been easy. There were times -- namely November into December -- when their fortunes looked bleak, but his players have proven nothing if not resilient.
"This week was a microcosm of the season," said Sullivan. "We can win some games and feel great about ourselves and then have a tough effort like [Saturday] where we were disappointed. But I think what is important from our standpoint as a coaching staff is the way this team responds and has responded all year. We're excited about our team and we know it's going to be a tough test but we're looking forward to the challenge."